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Patience, Dan. Oops, too late

By HUBERT MIZELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 13, 2000


People who own sports teams are both sweet and sour, loud and quiet, young and old, male and female, hands-on and near-invisible, tall and short, old school and new, obviously bright and seemingly dense, likable and despicable, humble and arrogant.

None was ever nicer than Art Rooney of the Steelers, more generous than Tom Yawkey of the Red Sox, more down-to-earth than Larry Miller of the Jazz, more stately than Leon Hess of the Jets or more classy than Lamar Hunt of the Chiefs.

If you're up for high-voltage debate, just float the names of George Steinbrenner of the Yankees, Al Davis of the Raiders, Jerry Reinsdorf of the Bulls/White Sox, Mike Brown of the Bengals or Jerry Jones of the Cowboys.

If we're categorizing all-time shortfalling owners, the conversation must include Bill Bidwell of the football Cardinals, Donald Sterling of the Clippers, Hugh Culverhouse of the Bucs, Rankin Smith of the Falcons, John Mecom of the Saints and both Phil Wrigley and the Chicago Tribune of the Cubs.

But now, there's Dan Snyder.

He flunks in new ways.

Today's big-league owners, including Glazer and Sons with the Bucs and Vince Naimoli of the Devil Rays and the Lightning gang of Bill Davidson, should study Snyder 2000 and learn a wealth of lessons about spending money, dealing with people both famous and not, developing expert counsel and coping with media scrutiny.

Snyder is obviously smart. Gutsy. Impassioned. A billionaire in his 30s who bought himself not just another red Ferrari or personal jet or moated castle. Little Danny went for the ultimate D.C. toy, politics aside, by becoming proprietor of the Washington Redskins.

So ravenous was Snyder for optimum success, which is admirable, he spent a nine-figure fortune a few months ago in an immediate jock-gathering attempt to return the Redskins to their Super Bowl status of the 1980s coaching time of Joe Gibbs.

If the 'Skins, this morning, were 12-2 instead of 7-7, the District might now be contemplating erecting a Little Danny monument to be placed somewhere among Washington's and Lincoln's and Jefferson's.

But it's not working.

Since the Snyder takeover, within the Redskins organization, there have been raging pockets of unrest. At last body count, more than 80 employees, from placekickers to janitors, either had quit the Washington franchise or been fired.

Typical off-the-field departure involved a secretary, longtime aide of former general manager Charley Casserly, a woman universally liked and respected, who was bounced by the incoming owner without even the courtesy of an interview.

Of course, if the Redskins were Super Bowl XXXV-bound, almost any Snyder action would be widely justified by zealous followers.

Even in October, when Little Danny's team was hot, the grumbling around the NFL was apparent. Thirty counterparts rooting for Snyder to stumble. If this chap has a single friend who works for one of the 30 other franchises, well, it's a bigger upset than Jets over Dolphins in Super Bowl III.

Davis, with a lifetime of controversial maneuvers and defying the pro football establishment, has made enormous enemies but also a significant number of well-documented allies in this richest, most popular of all sports leagues. Much the same could be said for baseball's Steinbrenner, the biggest of World Series winners with his Yankees.

Snyder is now wounded. Ego harpooned. It was okay for him to fire Norv Turner as coach. Disappointed owners do such things. Even if Little Danny isn't blessed with the hard-core sports backgrounds of Davis, Jones and Steinbrenner.

But why not wait until season's end to eject Norv? Why not with a measure of dignity? On their first Sunday under interim coach Terry Robiskie, the Redskins were embarrassed by has-beens from Dallas.

Snyder's gravy train umped the track, then he did something especially nonsensical. Pepper Rodgers was invited to be Washington coach. Franklin Rodgers once coached at UCLA, Kansas and Georgia Tech, but he has been out of the business since Chris Weinke was in grade school.

Last memorable coaching site of Pepper was after the 1979 season when his entire Tech staff was fired, including neophyte assistant Steve Spurrier.

Rodgers is a hustler. For years, he led a failed Memphis attempt to get an NFL franchise. Fred Smith, creator of Federal Express, all but adopted the gregarious Pepper. A connection to the Redskins developed when FedEx bought naming rights to the stadium where Little Danny's gents play.

Pepper has been around the Snyder 'Skins. Coming to most every game. Hobnobbing. Bringing his unique style of Southern politics to Washington. Little Danny is so short on quality advisers, he kept hearing Rodgers.

When asked, Pepper had the savvy to not become coach, but this feisty man, at 68, did become VP of football operations, which means Redskins general manager.

Rodgers is almost certainly the impetus for now-documented Redskins interest in Spurrier. Thirty-four seasons ago, when Steve was winning the Heisman Trophy at the University of Florida, the Gators quarterback coach was Pepper.

S.O.S., who makes $1.2-million a year at UF, should not be so money-hungry as to accept a Washington offer, even if it's $4-mil or more. What else would Steve be able to buy? At 55, he should never again coach anybody but Gators. But, always, Spurrier leaves open "a crack," which causes the creative Gainesville icon to get annual teases from the NFL.

I do have hope for Snyder. He's still smart, still rich, still passionate. Remember how nasty the Jerry Jones coup was in Dallas, when he became owner and triggered the ugly firings of coach Tom Landry and other originals with the Cowboys organization? Well, he did learn. Jerry changed. Cooled it. Became a winner. A good listener.

Today, the Jones fellow is pretty terrific, although now struggling to right a half-sunk Cowboys ship. He operates with concern and considerable caring. Overcoming, to a heavy extent, the shabby way the Landry era was ejected.

That also can happen with the Redskins, if Snyder builds relationships with competent, proven NFL operatives, mending fences as he goes, showing he cares about the NFL as a whole, becoming as good a guy as Jerry Jones, not doing business like some spoiled brat whose favorite toy is now broken.

Almost anything is possible.

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